N.B. This information applies to people who live in England and Wales only.
There’s an enforcement agent/bailiff outside my house – what do I do?
- Lock your doors and don't let them inside. Talk to them through the letterbox. They can't take your stuff if they can't get in.
- It's not too late to get help with your debt. Call CAP on 0800 328 0006 now. If you're already a CAP client, call your caseworker team on 01274 761 999.
- Have a look at the following FAQs so you're clear on your rights.
What’s an enforcement agent?
‘Enforcement agent’ is the new formal name for a bailiff, someone who collects money on behalf of a creditor, by taking control of (or 'seizing') goods to cover the debt, arranging a payment plan and/or enforcing payment.
Should I let them in?
No, lock your doors and windows. In most cases (including Council Tax arrears), enforcement agents can only enter a property ‘peaceably’ or if you’ve given permission – which means, if a door is unlocked, they have every right to walk on in and take control of your belongings.
If there’s an enforcement agent at your door and they haven’t yet entered the property, talk to them through the letterbox. They can't take your things if you don't let them in. However, any items outside of your house are still fair game, so they could seize things like cars, bicycles and garden equipment if they’re on view.
What if they're threatening to ring the police and have me arrested for not letting them in?
Try not to panic; the police can’t arrest you for not allowing an enforcement agent into the property, nor can they help the agent to remove items.
The police would only get involved in order to keep the peace, so you should call them (as can the agent) if you're frightened or you feel there's a threat of violence.
What if they're trying to break in?
Only in a small number of cases can an enforcement agent lawfully use ‘reasonable’ force to enter your property – these include debts for criminal court fines and when collecting for a business debt in specific circumstances. Even if the enforcement agent is lawfully able to force entry, they may be reluctant to do this and will prefer to enter with your permission.
If you’re unsure, call your caseworker team immediately on 01274 761 999. If you think there’s a threat of violence then phone the police.
I haven’t had notice that they would be coming - is that allowed?
The law states that you have to be given at least seven days notice that an enforcement agent is going to visit your property (Sundays, bank holidays, Good Friday and Christmas Day don’t count). You’ll usually be notified in writing, and the notice will be headed ‘notice of enforcement’. It will detail who the enforcement agent is, who they’re collecting the debt for, and the amount you owe.
So if you have any unopened letters lying around, you’ll need to have a really good look through to see if you’ve been sent this notice. If you genuinely haven’t been notified, the agents will have to come back later.
However, there are exceptions to this rule that you need to be aware of. For example, as soon as you receive the notice of enforcement, your belongings are what’s called ‘bound’ and you’re not allowed to get rid of them – if the court feels there’s significant chance that you may remove or dispose of items from your property to stop them being taken by an enforcement agent, they can make an order that allows a shorter notice period to be given. The rules also differ for enforcement agents from the high court and magistrates’ court – if you receive paperwork from either of these, call your caseworker team on 01274 761 999.
They've made entry into my house – what now?
Once an enforcement agent has entered your property, they’re allowed to take control of items (to cover up to the value of the debt you owe, plus the enforcement agent fees). The most common way they will do this is by making a Controlled Goods Agreement (CGA), a list of the seized goods that both you and the agent must sign and date.
Once a CGA is in place, the agent will return at a later date to collect the goods and sell them to cover the debt, if it hasn’t been cleared in full in the meantime.
When you sign the CGA, you’re agreeing not to remove, dispose of or damage the items listed before the debt has been repaid in full or they’re collected by the agent – to do so is a criminal offence.
Before you sign, make sure the CGA clearly lists all the seized items and details the terms of any repayment plan you’ve agreed with the agent. There are certain rules about what enforcement agents can’t seize, so make sure the CGA doesn’t include:
- Any items belonging to children
- Any items needed for basic day-to-day living, including your bedding, clothing, furniture, fridge, oven, washing machine and other similar household items
- A vehicle which has any outstanding Hire Purchase owing on it
- A vehicle which has been purchased under the Motability Scheme
- A vehicle that has a valid disabled person’s badge displayed on it (the blue badge)
- Any items necessary for someone’s employment or trade, up to a value of £1,350
- Items that belong to someone else, although it’s down to you to provide proof of ownership, so get searching for any related paperwork pronto (items that are co-owned by you and someone else are different – these can be seized, but if they’re sold 50% of the money raised has to be paid back to the joint owner)
Since making entry into my house they've gone outside again – should I lock them out?
If an enforcement agent has already been inside your property and taken items into control, they’re allowed to use reasonable force to re-enter, so it’s best not to lock them out (or indeed in).
It’s the middle of the night and there’s an enforcement agent at my door – what do I do?
Enforcement agents aren’t allowed to visit your property between 9pm and 6am. If they call between these hours, you can refuse them entry and complain to the enforcement agents’ head office, or phone the police if you feel you're being harassed. Be aware that they can return at any time outside the restricted hours – that’s after 6am and before 9pm.
My child has just called to say they’re home alone and there’s a bailiff at the door – what do I do?
Enforcement agents have to leave if they suspect that only children under the age of 16 are in the house. Tell your child to communicate this to them through the letterbox, and give them a time to call back when you’re going to be home.
CAP has teamed up with a number of UK debt advice agencies and charities to campaign for change to bailiff law. To read the full report, click here.